Recognition of our normalcy requires equality in every aspect of society. There is nothing intrinsic to being gay, lesbian, or bisexual that hinders military performance, just as there is nothing intrinsic to being transgender for the same. Proving that we are just as capable in combat proves we are not second-class citizens. This logic has held for racial and female integrations. Civil rights movements were built and reinforced after equality in the military was achieved. This is a fight that we all must take part in.
On September 22, 2011, two days after the official end of DADT, Army Captain Stephen [Snyder-]Hill came out to the world as gay by asking Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum whether he would continue the progress that had been made for gay and lesbian Soldiers in the military. The video clip rapidly went viral, both for Santorum’s piss-poor response, but also the crowd of Republicans booing a soldier who was currently on deployment. To that room, politics came before service; who you were mattered more than your military effectiveness. We are seeing a virtual repeat of that exchange today.
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter lifted the ban on transgender military service in June 2016. After a year of implementation, that policy is now under threat by this White House and the policy on recruiting and commissioning transgender individuals, which was supposed to be implemented last July, has been stalled. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers are proposing legislation to prohibit transgender healthcare in the military, and some agree with the President that the ban on transgender service should be re-instated.
The arguments used by supporters of the ban on transgender service are verbatim taken from debates about DADT. This issue is one-in-the same. The talking points against both bans are weathered, worn, and battle-tested. Therefore, failure to prevent this ban from being implemented would blow a crater in any LGBTQ issue. Any acceptance of the ban would result in brazen stain of stigma that some of us are not dependable to defend our country. And that stigma would bleed over – everyone would be tainted. The conservative narrative of the queer liberal ‘snowflake’ that cannot be productive in society would find justification. This is unacceptable.
And while politicians argue, transgender Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coast Guardsmen wait in nervous anticipation for their careers. Their units anxiously wait for guidance and their families worry about keeping their healthcare and income. Yet while we are effectively at the whim of a twitter feed, our advocacy is unbridled. From Republican Senators Orrin Hatch to John McCain, transgender service has found unlikely allies. It will be a dark day when Senator Hatch is a bigger advocate for LGBTQ rights than those of us who are LGBTQ, unless we step up.
For my own story, I fell into a loophole where I was active service, but not yet covered by the lifted ban. This meant that upon graduating West Point, I was discharged for my identity. Somewhat ironically now, I would have operated anti-ICBM technology and been one of those ready to shoot down major aerial threats, possibly from North Korea. Instead, I am job hunting. There is no bitterness towards the military, or her officers. They simply did their jobs. However, many of my commanders actively supported me. Consternation about discharging me was universal in my chain of command. As one high ranking officer told me: the end of DADT was the greatest non-issue the Army ever witnessed. Implementation of the transgender policy, he anticipated, would be as uneventful. That was in September of 2016.
The morning after the election, in my Officership class, we discussed the surprise result and how it would impact the military and our role as officers. When called upon by my professor, a Lieutenant Colonel whom I respect very much, my only response was that this has suddenly resulted in widespread fear among minorities and the LGBTQ community, particularly in the military. I hypothesized that an attempt to reinstate DADT or the ban on trans service might be attempted. I was laughed off; of course the President would never do such a thing…
This emotional backlash to diversity is an historic norm, but does not normally succeed. I have very real support from military commanders to serve, but apparently not the civilian leadership playing politics for their constituents. The military is fully willing and capable to include people of all identities, it is our civilian leaders that are failing us.
Open transgender service is a civil right we all are invested in. With every addition of diversity in the military, we spark new civil rights in our society. Our American identity literally undergoes trial by combat. With trans-panic laws sweeping the nation and our bathrooms, this is not a time to falter or be choosy about priorities. Just as the end of DADT legitimized being gay in America and allowed for mass acceptance of marriage equality, so too will the transgender identity be legitimized. The gay rights movement has not ended, nor should it, but at least the T is no longer silent.
Riley Dosh was discharged for her gender upon graduation from West Point in May 2017.